NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Some Crazy Ideas for a New Superspeedway

In case you missed it, some weeks ago Happy Hour discussed how NASCAR can learn from baseball and build new venues designed to create better racing experiences for fans and teams. I presented a rough outline of what the next speedway could look like.

Judging from comments and emails, the idea was well received. Thankfully, there are fans out there that understand and appreciate the value of the venues where the NASCAR circus takes place.

Coming up with a short track wasn’t difficult. Most NASCAR fans love short track racing, a sentiment that is clearly lost on the guys who make decisions about where races will be held. So a quirky short track was likely to go over fairly well with purists.

But a superspeedway, now that’s a challenge.

Here’s the problem we have. I know many people love Daytona and Talladega. But I am not interested in a speedway that will require the dreaded restrictor plate.

Look at the results of any restrictor-plate race and you will see drivers in the top 10 that usually struggle to make the top 25 in any other race. You will also see the best drivers and teams in NASCAR at the bottom of the results, usually courtesy of the Big One. It may be exciting to people, but when the dust clears and the results are skewed in a way they shouldn’t be, that isn’t fundamentally right.

Besides that, I detailed in a column last year why at plate tracks, more than anywhere else, aero package is everything. And NASCAR stated with their unleashing of the Winged Snowplow that they want the racing to be more in the hands of the drivers than the engineers. Like that will ever happen.

At any rate, no restrictor plates allowed here. So the obvious design should include lower banking than is found at Daytona or Talladega.

But if we lower the banking, we create two new problems.

What happens when the banking isn’t high enough to require restrictor plates? I give you Pocono Raceway. Now, I have no problem with that… I love the place and how it provides a unique challenge. But it’s understood that many people don’t, seeing it almost as a road course with not enough passing and unexciting finishes.

The second problem is much worse, as anyone who saw last year’s race at Indianapolis knows. The new car has a high center of gravity and is very hard on outside tires to begin with; having little or no banking could result in races like last year’s Indianapolis debacle. We don’t want unhappy fans at Happy Hour Superspeedway.

The box to think outside of is this: that racetracks must be ovals (and notably, Pocono and Indianapolis do not quite share this distinction). Places like Daytona, Texas and other big speedways are called “tri-ovals,” with the front straightaway bowed outward to make room for pit road. This makes it easier to come down the straightaway with a full head of steam, but also necessitates the use of restrictor plates on the biggest speedways, because the cars simply go too fast.

So I’m pioneering a new proposal: the “Eight Track.”

No, I’m not talking about the erstwhile musical medium of the 1970s that somehow persisted despite its infuriating mid-song fadeouts and “ga-chunks” as the program changed. I’m talking about a racetrack shaped somewhat like the number eight.

The “Eight Track” will require drivers to initially make a slight right turn at the end of a straightaway, before making a wide left around the turn. As the driver completes the 180-degree turn, he must then make a slight right to get back on the straightaway. Sort of, but not quite, like a chicane on both straightaways.

I don’t have the exact calculations for what the degree of arc should be in the turn, but the ultimate goal is to slow the driver down enough that the dreaded restrictor plate isn’t necessary. Yet the banking in the turns (the left turns) could be higher than that of Pocono or Indianapolis. So we don’t have drivers taken out of races through no fault of their own in colossal wrecks, and we don’t put the wear and tear on the tires that low-banked tracks cause.

So now where does pit road go?

I’ve stated in the previous track columns that pit road should be wide, easy to get onto, and visible to all in attendance. I initially thought that pit road could be on the outside of the track as opposed to the inside, but I scrapped that idea when I decided it would distract from the racing on the track. And I’m thinking it may just be too dangerous to have pit road straight out of the last turn, where a lapse in concentration could send a driver (like Dale Earnhardt Jr., given his lack of focus on pit road lately) screaming down pit road at 150 coming out of a turn.

So I thought of an idea so crazy and nuts that you’re welcome to call me names (within reason) for thinking of it.

An on-ramp to an elevated pit road.

Given my idea to elevate the grandstands in the previous track design, which would allow fans to still be able to see the backstretch over pit road, I think that an elevated pit road might make for a better show. Certainly, it would be something unseen at a racetrack in the past. I don’t mean 20 feet above the ground like a parking garage, I’m just talking high enough, maybe two feet, so that: a) drivers know when they’re racing not to get on the ramp, and b) pit road is still separate from the racing on the track – not by a large patch of grass but by elevation. Ideally, this would make the pits a sort of separate show in itself.

One concern is that pit road would have to be wide… since drivers can’t push each other into the grass anymore I wouldn’t want them hitting a wall and skidding towards crew members. Most short tracks have walls on the outside of pit road out of necessity, so on a wide pit road this shouldn’t be a problem.

The racing won’t be underneath pit road. The pit road “on-ramp” will be going into turn 3, leading onto pit road on the inside of the frontstretch, and the exit will be out at the end of turn 2. This is a long pit road, but they’re long on superspeedways anyway. Speed limit 75-80 from the entrance to the yellow line, then 55 in the pits.

So the new superspeedway has a new style of pit road, and high banking without a need for restrictor plates.

Regarding the rest of the features at Happy Hour Superspeedway, let’s review:

Remember that there were no seats on the backstretch. This would be a much easier sell on a superspeedway, given that there could almost be 80,000 seats in a grandstand going from turn 4 to turn 1. Everyone should be able to see pit road as well as the entire track.

I hadn’t planned on an asymmetrical layout for this one, but it certainly could be done. Just so long as we never need that stinkin’ plate.

The elevated grandstands would also be in place here, but with the grandstand being as long as it will be, not only could there be concession stands underneath the grandstands, but there could be as many as 30 open stores just for driver merchandise. I enjoy taking time to check out the merchandise haulers, but not everyone arrives at the race so early. This would give fans something to do during a red flag or a long green-flag run early on.

Some people really liked the idea of having video screens on the outside of the racetrack showing films of some of NASCAR’s greatest moments to people waiting in line to get in. That could certainly be done.

Since Happy Hour Superspeedway will be the biggest of all of NASCAR’s tracks, checking in at 2.8 miles, they’ll serve the biggest hot dogs too.

And given its shape, Happy Hour Superspeedway could be nicknamed “the Dogbone” if “Eight Track” doesn’t go over so well.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Well just like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon seemingly set out to prove me wrong and succeeded. Last week I reminded everyone that he had been running well before Texas last season as well. To think all he needed was for Hendrick to give him the good stuff he’d been giving to the No. 48 team.
  • If anyone is looking to get into the lugnut glue business, you would have a huge potential customer in Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Sadly, Aric Almirola and the No. 8 team are the latest victim of sponsorship difficulties. So less than two years after Dale Jr.’s departure from DEI, his car and team have folded. I’m not trying to suggest that Junior doesn’t get better results on the track than Almirola did, but this is a prime example of why the marketable guys get the sponsorships.
  • As we have reported in the newsletter, NASCAR’s ratings are down an average of 15% this season, continuing the steady decline since 2004. Wasn’t that the year the Chase was introduced? Amazing coincidence, that.
  • Happy Easter to everyone out there who celebrates it. If you don’t, send me your peanut butter-chocolate eggs.

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